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Author's Reply

To the Editor:

Adam Walinsky’s comments [Letters from Readers, May] on my article, “Kennedyism” [January], compel reply—if only because their author employs the wiliest of all polemical gambits: announcing himself duty-bound to set the record straight without the benefit of my unmatchable gift for “personal sniping, cutting, and condescending invective.” Now the article, to be sure, makes strong charges, but nowhere in it is there even a hint either of invective or recourse to that which is usually understood by the word “personal.” Along the way, not particularly kind things were said of Mr. Walinsky himself. If that is what he means by invective, however, one can only conclude—in an era in which men have risked being called “racist” or “opportunist” for, say, the least expression of skepticism about the current slogans of the progressive-minded (even, yes, even at the hands of Mr. Walinsky)—that he has led a most fortunately sheltered life.

But, as Mr. Walinsky might nobly say, enough of this small unpleasantness, let us to the grand substance of our argument. First, Mr. Walinsky’s letter indirectly makes the point that Robert Kennedy would have been the best candidate for President. I quite agree. His election would have signalled an unambiguous mandate to shut down the war and might, moreover, have succeeded in holding together for a little while longer the fragile coalition of the Democratic party. And this latter, while far from the last best hope of mankind, might possibly have done a little something to damp the hot winds of our going Kulturkampf.

As for the rest, as Mr. Walinsky himself concedes, we are left once more in the realm of intention. Mr. Walinsky’s argument that millions of poor people, and numerous men of “complex and rigorous” intelligence (like himself) could never have been moved to support a man who had, as I claimed, shown a certain unintelligent carelessness toward the needs and experiences of others, is the sort of cant that no longer suffices to meet the questioning of my nine-year-old son. Since, however, I was attempting a piece of analysis and he, to conduct a political campaign, he has the decided advantage over me here: for this is precisely the kind of cant to which a critic is not, and a practicing politician is, traditionally entitled. My charges against the New Politics—a phrase Mr. Walinsky curiously refrains from mentioning—were:

  1. In defining the core of the Negro problem as being the “racism” of White America—vide the Kerner Commission Report—the New Politics inevitably, whatever its day-to-day editorial postures, speaks to affairs of the human heart, not to political or economic interests; and thereby transcendingly, and I might add, condescendingly, misleads both black and white.
  2. The creation of special black schools, black programs, black admissions policies, black quotas, etc., understood to be, and created for the purpose of being, less demanding than—or if you prefer the polite euphemism now in currency, “different from”—those of whites, seems to me self-evidently the application of special standards of competence and behavior. The citation of a speech of Robert Kennedy’s that the law must be observed maybe a heartening piece of moral exhortation, but for anyone interested in understanding the serious social and political implications of a position, I would still offer a goodly dose of D. H. Lawrence: Never trust the teller, trust the tale. As would also be the case with
  3. The question of private philanthropy. Exactly how would Mr. Walinsky characterize the Urban Coalition or the Kennedy project in Bedford-Stuyvesant?
  4. The fashionable new cry for community control may have bedazzled a number of black bureaucrats with the promise of a little bogus power, but it is in fact the expression of the wish—a reactionary wish, and in those golden days when men of “complex and rigorous” intelligence had a little respect for history, recognized as such—to have one’s local demands taken out of that large central sphere where men of political bent are forced to reconcile them with the demands of others.
  5. About the conduct of students in our best universities, what is there to argue? Mr. Walinsky somehow implies that if Robert Kennedy were alive, he would address them with courage. If that is so, our loss is all the more keen. It says nothing, however—I call Mr. Walinsky to a bit of elementary logic—about what the students are really demanding.

Finally, in Mr. Walinsky’s heartfelt and touching prayer for a better world with which he concludes his letter, I am sure that men of good will everywhere can only join him, as I do most heartily. And wish him good luck in his forthcoming campaign for election.

Midge Decter
New York City

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